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In the context of developments in healthcare services that emphasise swift access to care, concern has been expressed about whether and how continuity of care, particularly interpersonal continuity, will continue to be achieved.
To explore how patients regard and use primary care services in relation to continuity of provider and access to care, to identify factors that promote or hinder their success in achieving their preferences, and to describe what this means for how different types of continuity are achieved.
Longitudinal, mixed methods.
Community in London and Leicester
Purposive sample of 31 patients recruited from general practices, walk-in centres and direct advertising. Data collection involved in-depth interviews, consultation record booklets completed over 6 months and general practice records for the year including the study period. Data were analysed qualitatively.
Four patterns were identified in the way patients used primary care. These were shaped by their own preferences, by the organisation and culture of their primary care practices, and by their own and their provider's efforts to achieve their preferences. Different configurations of these factors gave rise to different types of continuity. Patients were not always able to achieve the type they wanted. Patients with apparently similar consulting patterns could experience them differently.
Within a programme of modernisation, policies that promote a commitment to meeting the preferences of different patients with flexibility and understanding are most likely to provide continued support for interpersonal and other types of continuity of care.